Romania especially Transylvania is loaded with castles, one more scenic and beautiful than other but the most famous of course is Bran or Dracula castle and in my earlier ignorance I thought that was the only hotspot in the country, how wrong I was!
We travelled by car and saw both Peles and Bran castles in a day on the way to Brasov. It is very easily doable and we had a great day with amazing rural scenery as well as the castles.
Peles castle is located in Sinaia city on top of the hill and it takes roughly 2 hours from Bucharest city centre to get there. The castle was a summer palace for the German king Carol I and most of the people like us see it because it is on-the-way but the opinion changed the moment I stepped inside the castle.
If I had the chance again I’d see Bran castle first and Peles later because Bran castle is very rudimentary and basic compared to Peles. It has its own charm though and the intrigue comes from the beautiful Transylvanian forests around the castle standing atop a sordid mountain.
Going with Tour
A tour of Peles, Bran and possibly Rasnov castles in a day is very popular and you can book it online and also through tourism info offices. They pick you at 8am and drop you back at 8pm.
Bucharest to Sinaia (Peles Castle)
We left bucharest around 10am after picking up our car from SixT which turned our bill from €52 to €106 with magic, never again SixT!
Tip: The best time to leave is around 9:30 -10am because most of the tourist tour operators leave around 8 am causing a bit of a rush at that time.
We started from the city centre towards Brasov and after the airport started the scenery that just blew our minds away. The roads were clear despite snow and we didn’t have any disruption at any point even on the single road later.
The road from Bucharest to Peles is double and very good but there is a severe lack of service areas. We hadn’t had any breakfast. After looking around for half an hour we finally found a road side restaurant which was good but I’d recommend eating before leaving.
The scenery on both sides of the road is stunning, snow covered trees that on a grey cloudy day would scare any one and make you think of vampires, the barren branches and thick forest till your eyes can see. After a while you will see the River flowing next to the road which goes all the way to Sinaia, frozen at some spots and flowing in others. The day was nice and sunny and 2 hours passed without realising much.
The old houses build with wood are fascinating and with so many designs and types it was a sight especially near Comarnic where the houses were really beautiful.
We didn’t go into Sinaia but it looked like a typical countryside town with wooden houses, snow and some shops. The drive up to the castle is short and in a couple of minutes you will arrive at the parking area beyond which you can only go on foot.
We walked up and got to this beautiful castle which looks like a jewel from a distance sitting on top of the hill with its beautiful gardens and the grassy grounds around it covered with snow.
You don’t have to be a genius to realise why this place was chosen by the German king for his summer residence. Even from far you can imagine yourself on top of the tower enjoying the views of the forest behind and across and the beautiful snow covered Carpathian mountains, I could imagine the range of colours that must run through this place in summer.
The walk to the entrance was quite long because you have to go around the grounds in front of castle but we finally go to the castle. The beautiful building is disintegrating but you can still see the care with which it was built especially the wooden balconies and the beautiful tower.
We bought the tickets and waited for the tour to start which happens every 20 minutes. You will need to pay extra 45 Lei if you want to take pictures but I am not entirely sure if it is official because it was a bit hush hush and no one gave any receipt for it.
Finally the tour started and we entered the main hall of castle after covering our shoes and at that one single point I realised what a wonder this place was..
The main hall and every single room is decorated with extreme care and with so much dedication, it is almost impossible to find a comparable example. It was the first castle in Europe to get electricity and since there are no windows the roof opens and closes with electricity, a triumph of engineering at the time.
You will walk through the armoury which has some stunning weapons (old style and a big metallic statue and knight)
to the Kings room where he took audiences
ending in the library which housed books in Romanian, English, German and French. Apparently there is a secret tunnel that goes through the book cases, they didn’t let us open it though, who knows what we’d find in there.
The rest of the rooms are designed in different styles taking their inspiration from a range of places. This includes a Turkish smoking room, a Moorish style Alhambra inspired room, Italian, French and even an English one.
My favourite rooms…
There is even a cinema in there but we were not so keen on spending a full hour with the tour so we wrapped in up and stayed in the main hall for a few more minutes enjoying this beautiful castle, their impeccable taste and the detailed work that was brought over from workshops of Vienna and Germany. The palace is a representation of the subjects the German kings had from Turks to Romanians to Germans and Hungarians…
Tip: If you have more time there is another smaller castle called Pelisor right next to Peles castle. I have heard it is also good and it is just a few minutes away.
I felt good listening to the advice and coming to this stunning castle. I don’t think I have seen anywhere so beautiful and so well placed, we walked back in a bit of awe of this place but it was time to get to Bran Castle.
Sinaia to Bran
The drive from Sinaia to Bran is an hour long and the road is single for most of the journey. We grabbed some boiled corn to enjoy on the way from the huts outside Peles castle..
We passed through the forest and jungles and some really sudden turns but the drive was very pleasant.
We arrived in Bran and parked our car and there we realised what Tourism does to a place. While Peles was still very rural with a few locals selling stuff, the entrance and surroundings of Bran castle have been turned into a tourist attraction with some restaurants and even a scary house with some devilish laughter blaring out on loud speaker, tacky is the word to describe it.
We purchased the tickets and entered the place 10 minutes it closed. It closes at 4 in Winters so take that into account. The walk up is short but steep and when we finally arrived at the door, it was covered is scaffolding; it was such a massive disappointment n top of the sun that decided to come out that day of all days to ruin my view.
I am just being a baby, it really was very beautiful with the thick forest around. The castle inside is very basic and rudimentary with whitewashed walls and ceilings and basic furniture. The rooms and corridors are quite small and at a lot of places I had to duck to move. It is a maze and a lot of times you don’t know where in the castle you are.
There is a small hidden passage that is open for everyone and if you are claustrophobic, don’t go in, it is really narrow and I felt a little dizzy..
Fun Fact: Despite the famous novel of Bram Stoker and its international fame and movies, Vlad Tepes had nothing to do with the castle. He was reportedly captured and kept here as a prisoner for a couple of months.
You will see the details of Vlad and Dracula and Bran as well as local superstitious figures called Strigoi which were the disturbed spirits of dead and the whole thing around them; some one must have come up with that to exploit the poor villagers, I wish I could invent something like that and run it as a business on the side 😉
After an hour in and around the maze, we finally grew tired and I had a spa appointment in Brasov as well, we decided to leave. It was the perfect time to see this beauty in shadows. We drove past the castle in opposite direction and there we saw the majesty of this beautiful stunner in darkening light. I couldn’t stop admiring the way it strokes your imagination. I am sure Bram Stoker had felt the same way.
The forest around the castle..
Bran to Brasov
The drive from Bran to Brasov is quite short and we got there in 40-50 minutes. Despite the road getting darker it was still very comfortable. I must give it to the Romanian government for keeping the roads open with all that snow around, we did get a lot of pot holes though which reminded me of rural roads in Pakistan, ah the joys of travelling…